The Canucks came out flying from the start and, despite going into the third tied with Calgary, broke their six-game skid.

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Playing “their” game has been a struggle for the Vancouver Canucks for much of the season.

But since they got home from their rough Eastern road trip and actually got a proper day off to rest, and also had some time to go through proper practice, they’ve been playing better.

Thursday they played very well and deserved better against the Calgary Flames. Saturday at Rogers Arena, it was more of the same in terms of overall effort, but this time the Canucks beat the Flames 3-1.

Even so, the Canucks’ former goalie Jacob Markström nearly stole the show, making 43 saves behind a pretty lacklustre effort by the Flames.

With all the noise swirling around the team of late — between their six-game losing streak and fan dissatisfaction with the direction of the team — this win was a more than welcome moment for the Canucks’ players and coaches.

“We played hard tonight, we played fast,” head coach Travis Green said after the game.

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“These guys felt good about winning tonight. When you lose that many in a row, you know that the heat’s on. It’s a proud group, they expect to win every night. They know they hadn’t played their best early in the year. They know they’d played well the last two games before this. A nice win, for sure.”

“We needed a win bad,” Quinn Hughes said. “Tonight, to get rewarded it’s nice.”

The Canucks’ goals were scored by Hughes, Tyler Myers and Brandon Sutter with an empty-netter, while Sam Bennett got the Flames’ lone tally in the second period.

Here’s what we learned …

Sean Monahan looks on as Flames teammate Johnny Gaudreau scores on Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko in the second period at Rogers Arena in Vancouver Saturday.
Sean Monahan looks on as Flames teammate Sam Bennett scores on Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko in the second period at Rogers Arena in Vancouver Saturday. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Hughes’s timing

Hughes’s exceptional talent for seeing what’s going on on the ice is well known.

So the way he saw a chance to turn the puck over ahead of his goal was no surprise. He plucked the puck off Johnny Gaudreau’s stick, catching most of the Flames going the other way.

His finish was equally elite as he faked a pass then wired a wrist shot past Markström’s blocker and just inside the post.

Hughes said he realized that neither Gaudreau nor Sean Monahan recognized where he was defending the centre of the ice.

“I knew I could sneak up on Johnny,” he said.

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“I think Marky thought I was going to pass it. I thought I was going to pass it. But their D took it away so I just shot it,” he said.

His goal gave the Canucks their first lead since their win in Winnipeg six games ago, and it was the first goal from a Canucks defenceman since Olli Juolevi scored against Ottawa on Jan. 25.

The defence corps has been racking up assists, though, and lead the league in total points.

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Myers’s aggression

It’s not been an easy go for the lanky defenceman. Many nights he’s been the poster boy for the Canucks’ struggles on defence.

When he’s playing well, he’s an aggressive presence in the offensive zone.

He had a great moment in the third period on the winning goal.

He helped create a turnover at the Flames’ blue-line, then led the counterattack against the tired group of visitors who were stuck on the ice, cutting to the middle of the slot with the puck, then got a good shot off as Markström moved from his right to his left and the shot sailed over his blocker.

The meaning of his tally was obvious, and if you didn’t know the bigger context to the situation, Myers’s reaction after the puck landed in the net said it all. He roared in approval, and gave a huge fist pump.

“We got the lead at the end of the game. It’s been a while,” he said with a smile after the game about what he was feeling in the moment.

“I think we had the same amount of emotion for Suttsy’s goal,” he added about the reaction on the bench to Sutter’s empty-net goal.

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On Saturday, the Canucks out-shot the Flames 32-9 at even strength with Myers on the ice.


NEXT GAME

Monday

Calgary Flames vs. Vancouver Canucks

7 p.m., Rogers Arena. TV: Sportsnet Pacific; Radio: Sportsnet 650 AM


Canucks in action against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Saturday. Pictured is Canucks Brock Boeser trying to get past Flames' Rasmus Andersson.
Canucks in action against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Saturday. Pictured is Canucks Brock Boeser trying to get past Flames’ Rasmus Andersson. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Better forechecking

One of the big problems the Canucks have had all season has been the amount of space they’ve given their opponents in all parts of the ice.

But with the arrival of the Calgary Flames, the Canucks appear to be correcting at least some of the problem.

Their forecheck has had more structure, with the third forward tracking higher in the offensive zone and in better sync with the defencemen.

It’s all added up to Calgary’s breakdowns not working as well, leading to turnovers in the neutral zone and less time on attack for the Flames, which is exactly how the Canucks wanted things to be.

They like to be a counter-attacking team and that can only happen if you force the opposition to take the puck up ice in ways they’d rather not.

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Canucks in action against the Calgary Flames during the second period at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Saturday. Pictured is Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko making a save against the Flames' Matthew Tkachuk.
Canucks in action against the Calgary Flames during the second period at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Saturday. Pictured is Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko making a save against the Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

The one that got away

Matthew Tkachuk is quite the hockey player.

At this point, this is well known.

So it was quite the metaphor when halfway through the third, he almost singlehandedly created a Flames scoring chance on the forecheck, with the Canucks’ fourth line of Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle and Jake Virtanen on the ice with Olli Juolevi and Tyler Myers.

Juolevi, of course, is the defenceman who the Canucks picked instead of Tkachuk in 2016, notionally because they hoped that Virtanen would develop into a similar player as Tkachuk.

The other three, of course, are high-priced free-agent signings by Benning.

To his credit, Juolevi had another strong game and has proven to be a solid partner for Myers.

The Myers-Juolevi duo were dominant in controlling the puck on the night and Myers threw a lot of credit the rookie’s way in accounting for their success.

“Olli is getting a lot better at using his voice. It’s making our breakouts better,” the veteran said.

And better breakouts mean better control up-ice.

“It’s allowing us to spend more time in their end,” he said.

Slow starting Flames

The Canucks were dominant in the first period on Saturday night, a rarity for them this season.

It was surely confidence-building, but perhaps also a little unsurprising as the Flames have been slow starters all season.

Before Saturday, they had taken just 105 shots in the first period, tied for 25th in the league.

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Casual look

The Canucks’ players decided to ditch the tradition of wearing a suit to the game in an effort to switch up their pre-game routines and find a win.

Hughes grinned when he was asked about it after the game, saying he liked how it let players be a little more personal in their presentation.

“We’re just trying to have fun as a group,” he said, suggesting that the attitude their casual look brought to the rink might have helped keep themselves loose once the game started.

Tyler Myers answered with an emphatic “Yes!” when he was asked about the player-driven decision post-game.

He said they did all agree to wear workboots to the rink, which is a classic hockey player metaphor.

The players didn’t let the coaches know of their plans, though.

“To be honest, I didn’t know anything about it,” Green said. He didn’t find out until he saw the players’ arrival being shown on Hockey Night in Canada.

“They have my blessing on it. Maybe coaches will have to get it on it, too.”

Pre-game confidence

After days — weeks? — of consternation from fans about the team’s rough start and the off-season that preceded it, including plenty of frustration expressed on social media about Benning and some calls for him to be fired, team owner Francesco Aquilini took to Twitter Saturday afternoon to say it wasn’t a time for panic and that he had no plans to make changes at either the management or coaching level.

“We know how badly our owners want to win,” Green said after the game. “It’s nice to hear.”

pjohnston@postmedia.com

twitter.com/risingaction


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